A gold standard for sustainable gold mining

The mining industry is gradually moving away from diesel power and is instead adopting clean energy.

The Gold Industry Group has showcased the technological vigour of Australia’s gold sector at the Resources Technology Showcase through renewable energy solutions adopted at some of Australia’s major gold mines.

The 2021 Resources Technology Showcase has highlighted the latest innovations in the resources industry to the next generation. 

Resources Technology Showcase presenting partner, the Gold Industry Group, showcased its members’ continued commitment towards advancing innovative technologies in the gold sector to more than 10,000 students, teachers and community members at the event in Perth during June.  

Mining companies are facing pressure to meet more stringent environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements, particularly with respect to decarbonisation, as the world heads towards net-zero emissions targets.

The industry is gradually moving away from diesel power and adopting cleaner energy sources instead. 

The gold sector is no exception, with Gold Industry Group member Gold Fields positioned as a world-leading gold miner in advancing renewable power solutions in Australia. 

Gold Fields’ Agnew gold mine in the Northern Goldfields region of Western Australia adopted a renewable energy microgrid in September 2019. 

Agnew is the first mine in Australia to use large-scale wind generation at a mine, with the 230,000-ounce-per-annum gold mine now operating the largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid in the country.

“This renewable energy project is leading the mining sector’s transition to clean energy through the innovative integration of five energy technologies to balance sustainability, economics, reliability and flexibility,” Gold Fields Energy Manager James Koerting tells Australian Mining. 

The $113 million renewable energy project meets more than 50 per cent of Agnew’s power demand through renewable energy, and cuts carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. 

Koerting, along with Gold Fields superintendent: environment and community Ashleigh Shelton, inspired young students at the Resources Technology Showcase to deliver renewable energy in the gold sector on behalf of the Gold Industry Group.

“The need to adopt new technologies has become more and more important, as mining companies manage the competing demands of mineral resources becoming harder to find and extract, with the need to reduce their environmental footprint and create positive impacts on our communities,” Koerting says. 

“At Gold Fields, we have been working to modernise our mining practices, including by making multi-million dollar investments in ground-breaking renewable energy projects and trialling the latest battery-electric mining vehicles, so we can one day operate our mines almost entirely from renewable energy sources.”

Australia’s gold industry is emerging as a key player in the switch to renewables, with adoption rates expected to grow in the coming years.  

Despite many gold mines operating in remote areas, where renewable infrastructure may be costly, Koerting expects renewable options to become more affordable in the years to come. 

“Over the next few years, we expect that enthusiasm will result in more mines adopting renewables as new technologies such as moveable solar farms and energy storage start to come online at an affordable price,” Koerting says. 

The Resources Technology Showcase has shown that the thinking around what’s possible at a mine is changing. 

Shelton says the Agnew hybrid renewable project provides a blueprint of how the gold industry can progress toward a cleaner future. 

“Through sharing our learnings from the Agnew hybrid renewable project, both the easy wins as well as the hurdles, we hope to provide a blueprint for other companies to consider their power options and possibly take the first steps on their journey towards transitioning into renewable energy,” Shelton says. 

This commitment continues to the industry’s next generation, with the Resources Technology Showcase hosting young people, allowing them to see the technological vigour of the mining sector. 

“Most importantly, and in line with the Gold Industry Group’s education initiatives, we hope to inspire kids who are still in school to consider  opportunities in the gold industry, mining, technology and renewables,” Shelton says. 

“The children coming along to the Resources Technology Showcase will soon be the adults pushing our society’s progress, research and implementation into renewables and if we can encourage just one child to move into the gold industry looking at clean energy technologies, the event will have been a success.”

Gold Fields is investigating options to make renewable energy storage more cost effective, to make it a more viable alternative for mine sites regardless of their scope and size.

“The ability to store excess energy long term would help to increase the amount of renewable energy we can use, however it is not currently cost effective,” Koerting says. 

“Investigations into long-term storage technology are underway at Gold Fields, with the intention to capture excess energy generated by wind during the night for use during the day when the mine load usually increases.

“There will come a point where renewable energy is cheaper than the marginal cost of thermal generation, particularly if running diesel-powered infrastructure is the alternative.”  

This article also appears in the July issue of Australian Mining.

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